brussels sprouts tweets

In my blogging-free decade before recently resuming, news consumption continued to evolve. Though Facebook was nascent and Twitter had yet to launch ten years ago, the trend leading down to 140 characters was well established. Television’s ascendancy had already entrenched “sound bite” in our vocabulary. I blogged about how the new manufactured reality insulates media consumers from real experience and knowledge. Indeed, it appears that as the newspapers get ever thinner and the paywalls get more robust, actual content is attaining heirloom status.

And if you do not already suffer from ADD, most news websites induce it.

Brussel_Sprouts_Tweet

The tragedy of pervasive media induced ADD is that important subjects are rarely discussed in depth. Unless one is part of the functionally literate cadre, like Disenfranchised Curmudgeon readers, your social media news diet consists more of headlines about the reaction of politicians to important events than it does the events themselves. Nothing illustrates this better than the coverage of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.

It is most unsurprising that the Bloviating Billionaire sees this as more evidence that we need to ban Muslims, ramp up torture and compare wall sizes. In another more literate epoch, one might reasonably expect a more substantive treatment from other political gladiators.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that this year.

Our political discourse is sadly obsessed with the offensive and inane—substance has no chance. Cruz managed to vault the lofty offensiveness of even Trump by suggesting that we lock down Muslim neighborhoods lest they become radicalized. Kasich effectively dodged offensiveness by managing a press release of 185 words that said absolutely nothing.

Since the GOP has famously bought the crazy franchise this election cycle, it might be reasonable to expect more from the Democrats, but they too disappoint. President-almost-elect Clinton did little better, in spite of her alleged policy wonk cred, choosing to highlight the GOP candidate stupidity while reminding us of her dubious claim to “experience”. Proving his suitability for the content free milieu that the candidates thrive in this year, Bernie was predictably more articulate and platitude laden yet ultimately gave us no more insight into his view on foreign policy than any of the other candidates.

This candidate reaction checklist makes one thing clear: these somnolent weasels use their 140 characters to say nothing.

Well, it would be “nothing” except that the English words are coming out of their mouths or off the fingers of their tweet managers seem to effectively rile up the masses. Or at least the portion failing to recognize that tuning in to this media based conversation is one of those rare human activities that will leave you less intelligent than when you began.

This is a time when we badly need intelligence. The Brussels attacks raise many of the most important issues that face the United States and the World. The media talking heads continually tell me how smart the President-almost-elect is and as much as her political cronyism quashes any voting impulse, I would relish a policy throw-down. That of course will not happen either as she walks the tightrope of leveraging the President’s voter base without sharing the blame for his administration’s foreign policy missteps.

For two administrations spanning almost 15 years and both major political parties, we have waged a “war” on “terror” that has primarily produced a new generation of alienated radicals. We are in desperate need of a new approach. The candidates deny you the transparency of advancing a substantive vision because they deem occupying the Oval Office to be more valuable than articulating a coherent policy agenda for voters to judge.

They are not open because We the People vote our guts, not our brains.

They know sound bites produce votes.

Substance produces Unfollow button presses.

So, as we forge ahead into a future without a map, are you going to be surprised by the next big terrorist event? Are you going to vote for one of these candidates that treat you no different than the functionally illiterate citizens that have, due to your acquiescence, become the only voters that matter? Are you going to vote for the lesser of the evils though that too is an evil choice?

Of course you will. Why waste a vote?

smells like trump spirit

It is said that the success of Smells Like Team Spirit stole Kurt Cobain’s soul. Nirvana’s platinum-plated, angst saturated teen anthem is an eerie allegory for the Trumpian appeal to the testosterone fueled rage of the disenfranchised. My own fear is that Trump Spirit, even if less successful, will consume America’s soul in the decades that follow November 2016.

The hyperbolic headlines denouncing Trump for his role in the thus far muted violence surrounding his campaign rallies continue to miss the real story. Trump, apparently, is a Hitler or perhaps a Mussolini. Honestly all you hyperventilating media wags, he lacks the intelligence to aspire to such infamy. Heck, he isn’t even a David Duke, much less a an heir to 20th century fascism.

Trump is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

Honestly, I’m getting a bit tired of hearing, thinking and writing about Trump. Yet, like you, I am transfixed by the spectacle as I endeavor to explain this putative apocalypse to myself. It is especially hard wrapping one’s mind around a misogynistic, bigoted megalomaniac having an excellent chance of being the next POTUS.

But a good look at Bernie Sanders helps.

I’m far from alone when I suggest that Making America Great Again and Feeling The Bern are tapping the same well of pent up anger. Decades of low voter turn-out have mostly incorrectly imputed apathy to the disenfranchised. The “politically savvy” crowd, those reliable Red and Blue jersey voters, are perplexed by those who are undecided between Sanders and Trump. But it isn’t complicated: they are sick of the partisan machinery.

There are more of us disenfranchised than you think.

It has been over two years since Nick Hanauer issued his famous pitchfork warning on the TED stage. While he was certainly not the first to call attention to the growing unrest engendered by the profound income inequality growth of recent decades, he was one of the most engaging. His talk is worth your time if you have not seen it. Sanders too speaks about this passionately, but in his inimitable way, so does Trump. Sanders harangues us in direct terms, but even when he regales us on social justice, it is still all about the wealth gap: in 21st Century America, money is a proxy for pretty much everything.

The Trumpian appeal is usually much less overt. His campaign slogan implicitly asks the question: America isn’t very great for you, is it? We’ll build a big beautiful wall. Like Sanders, Trump too is in the political blame game stoking resentment against outsiders rather than billionaires. And of course everyone hates politicians.

Am I the only one who hears Cobain’s angry voice echoing in the background here?

I feel stupid and contagious,
Here we are now; entertain us…

The trend of substituting form for substance is a powerful one. Eleven years ago, I wrote about the post-modern trend in Presidential politics:

As reprehensible as all of this hypocrisy may be, the greater concern must still be the trend. The stage has been set where propaganda will likely get the seal of approval by the American people. If this administration and the one before it has taught us nothing else, we know that Presidents learn from the political successes of their predecessors. And if, as is likely, the propaganda thing gets added to the essential toolkit of the executive branch, the next administration will be unconstrained in ways we have scarcely imagined as possible in America.

While I share the fear of what the next four years will bring, that which truly terrifies is that which comes next.

Here we are at next.

Yesterday, Charles Krauthammer echoed my own fears that perhaps the pitchforks are coming, pointing out that the history of political thuggery is owned as much by the extreme left as it is the right. And when you plug in the Sander’s talk of revolution, this is getting downright creepy.

I myself am getting bit angry too. The anger is because I have so often had ugly names cast my way for pointing these things out. Calling into question the artificial two party political axis our politicians and media thrive upon is considered an apostasy of the highest order apparently, while calling for revolution or riot under the auspices of being a major party candidate—that’s OK with many partisans as long as it is their team. While I do not view widespread political violence as likely, as long as politicians like Trump throw around intemperate words skirting the edges of inciting violence, I can no longer rule it out. Cleveland 2016 may be more like 1968 Chicago than we care to imagine.

America’s angst is real. Partisan politics and the devolution in media from real content to plastic forms conspire against us. Our challenge is to collect our wits and rediscover who we are in America’s third century. The question is whether we will answer that calling or allow the political class to carry us into the abyss.

Much as Teen Spirit spoke to angst of that generation, this new spirit speaks to the angst of the disenfranchised. Three years after Nirvana’s anthem was a runaway success, Cobain, tormented by the challenges of success and heroine committed suicide. It is my hope and prayer that America’s addiction to sound bites does not lead it to a similar self-inflicted end.

After all, stupid IS contagious.

living in the eye of the storm

An old elementary school joke familiar to all is distressingly relevant to the tragic events unfolding in New Orleans. This schoolyard classic involves a vocabulary quiz, a revolving door and what was called a “fat woman” in a less politically correct time. The punch line was something to the affect that the door nearly dis-assed-her.

Sadly, that is probably the most thought most Americans have ever given to disaster planning.

Some of us are thinking about it. Big Business has been very active in what is known as business continuation planning for several decades. As a result of legislation imposing personal liability on Directors and Executives for failure to plan adequately and insurance premium rate pressure from property insurance underwriters, business has had little choice but to get serious about the future even in spite of the quarterly earnings focus. The 9/11 attack should have woke the rest of us up to the perils of catastrophic disasters and invoked a vigorous preparedness response.

What we got instead was a new ineffective bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security.

The failure of this Presidential administration to achieve any kind of readiness over the past four years could not be plainer than it is in the wake of Katrina. There has, of course, been copious coverage on the slow and poor emergency response from FEMA and other organizations charged to answer national distress calls. This is certainly an important topic and deserves substantial attention. There is a lot of information to digest there and I’m sure plenty of relevant stories yet to be told both of heroism in the face of inadequate resources and the incompetence which helped produce the situation. Steadfastly focused by the media on these juicy stories, the American people will as usual miss the greater significance of what is playing out before their eyes.

Missed entirely will be the big picture: the breakdown in social order that occurred when civilization ceased to exist. While the lurid facts of rape, robbery and irrational violence have made headlines, the broader implications deserve serious consideration.

Consider if you will the misfeasance of the government in allowing four years to pass without any serious effort to educate American citizens on how to react in disaster situations. Four years of rhetorical frothing without any apparent attempt to actually plan for the aftermath of an event of this scale.

I suppose that if this administration could not foresee the social breakdown caused by its military invasion of Iraq, it should not surprise us that they could not foresee that natural disasters could have the same effect here at home.

Immediately after 9/11, I remember discussions with a lot of people concerning what would happen if we have another 9/11 scale event. The number one concern in the minds of everybody I talked to was the prospect of civil unrest. The possibility of the total collapse of society around us is very real and this above all else should be what terrifies us about Katrina. Though the problem is both obvious and real, this administration has produced much noise and little else.

I for one am not so naïve as to attribute this mess to unforseeability. While the specific scenario that has permanently changed the face of the Crescent City was perhaps hard to detail, the risk of living below sea level on the Gulf of Mexico was well understood. When The Big One finally hits California we will probably call it unforeseeable no matter what the facts might say to the contrary.

I suppose that if you are one who can not foresee the inevitable large scale disasters of varying scope and nature, then perhaps you are also inclined to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on this one. I view recent history and history generally as teaching that mankind will continue to endure a succession of large scale disasters.

In my short span on this globe, we have had the New York City blackout, the Arab Oil Embargo, Hurricane Andrew, Mississippi River flooding, the San Francisco earth quake and 9/11. What these disasters are cumulatively showing us is that our social cohesion is at an all time low. And even were it not, anyone who has seen Deliverance can tell you that bad things can happen even in America when one is sufficiently removed from civilization. Or in the case of Katrina, when civilization ceases to exist.

Armed with ordinary schoolhouse knowledge, there is simply no excuse for not being better prepared. We live in an era that is truly on the edge in a more real way than at any time since the Great Depression. Thinking about a nuclear device detonated in Houston Harbor should give you serious pause as to the viability of America in the aftermath. Just follow the pipelines and see how quickly our world of material excess could go dark.

And this is just one scary scenario out of a multitude.

Viewed soberly it is clear that there is no substantive difference between what has happened in New Orleans as a result of Katrina and what would might have happened there in the event of a dirty bomb attack. Katrina has exposed how vulnerable America remains.

Unfortunately, this is no schoolyard and the joke is on you and me.

surgical strike: to provide for the common defense

I have been opining for some time that Homeland Defense is pretty much a joke in light of the lackadaisical attitude this administration takes toward border security. Not to mention container shipments at ports of entry. It is truly ridiculous that the US military cordons off entire nations while our home borders are said to be just too long to be protected.

Not that I am trivializing the magnitude of the task. I’m sure it is extraordinarily difficult and would require substantial resources to have something that approaches a secure border.

But in the context of the threats that have emerged in the last several years, I have trouble imagining what security issue could be more pressing. And while a few years back I had some sympathy with the notion that our borders were too long to be adequately protected, the progress of technology is making that argument increasingly hollow.

Undoubtedly I have little in common with the self-proclaimed Minutemen who have undertaken the task of defending our borders. If the accusations of vigilantism, bigotry or old-fashioned fascism turn out to be true, then I have even less in common with them than I already imagine. But still, I have to stand amazed that they are already having an impact.

According to the Associated Press, the Administration has finally today come out with plans to strengthen border protection. I can only expect that this will be one of a number of announcements that will be forthcoming in an effort to mitigate the damage to reputation being done by the Minutemen’s presence. I can only hope that unlike in other areas of political activity that perhaps this time there will be some substantive action. Action a bit quicker than the year 2008 would be nice too.

In the mean time, while I await the Government’s taking up of its constitutionally mandated task to provide for our defense, I will remain skeptical of claims of both virtue and depravity on the part of the Minutemen until the actual facts are in.

If the best does turn out to be true of them, however improbable that may be, then they deserve medals. But it would appear that even if the worst is true of them, they have performed for us a service for which we can all be thankful.

surgical strike: modern mendacity

It is encouraging to think that there is a burgeoning democratic reform movement afoot in Islam. That is the hopeful message of Thomas Friedman’s latest piece entitled Brave, Young and Muslim.

It is amazing to me that so many Americans do not seem to have even the slightest understanding of Islam and its history. More amazing still that so many Americans do not have any better understanding of their own history. I think if one looks thoughtfully at the progress of Western Civilization, you can see much of where we have been in what Islam is today.

It is easy to forget that our not so distant past harbored a lot of stuff that we do not comfortably claim as our own history. It was in the West after all that Galileo was jailed for nothing more than telling what he saw in his telescope. It was in the West that Albert Einstein had to flee his home for no other reason than being born of those descendants of Abraham that the Nazis chose as the objects of their hatred. And within the life times of much of the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon community we have seen even here in The Land of the Free a time when there were still separate drinking fountains for those born with unacceptable skin pigmentation.

The point is that the West had to have its Renaissance, Enlightenment and religious reformations along its hard climb to modernity. And the birth of Liberty came only at the ends of gun barrels and many centuries of slowly wresting power from the Monarchs. That we collectively undertook and survived those transforming movements is certainly to our credit.

But the attitude that is often heard that Islam is unsuitable for various institutions of modernity is certainly not to our credit. These attitudes are borne of a cultural arrogance that equals that of radical Muslim fundamentals. It is my firm belief that given time Islam will reform as has the other great religions of the World and that perhaps along the way an element or two of modern thought will be found rightfully worthy of their rejection.

I do not necessarily share Friedman’s belief that the time is now, but I certainly share his hope. After all, if the time is not now then we may have a few long centuries in front of us.

tsunami on my mind

Like most citizens of the world, I find myself in this festive time of the year genuinely grief-stricken over the tragedy that has befell so many people who found themselves in the path of the Christmas Tsunami. That America must help in a tragedy of this magnitude is self-evident. I would like to add my call to those many others who have humbly plead for your contribution for the benefit of survivors.

Amazingly, however, there has been some argument over the nature and degree of assistance we should provide for tsunami relief and that argument has spawned in the messageboards an important debate on what are our obligations as global citizens. Ever the critic of modern American society, this Curmudgeon unsurprisingly weighed in to advocate the moral obligation for the extraordinarily wealthy to help the extraordinarily poor, and to lament the woeful American contributions of the past. To make a very long story short, using rough numbers I calculated that by dedicating modest resources-one percent of our GDP-to global poverty, we would be able to spend approximately $1,000 per reachable hungry person in the World.

One thousand dollars is a lot of assistance for people on the brink of death from starvation.

Sadly, most Americans assume we are doing far more than what we are. If asked how much assistance we are giving, I’m guessing most Americans would pick a figure well in excess of the one-tenth of one percent we actually give. And that one-tenth of one percent includes a lot of aid that properly would not be considered “aid” by most people.

What prompts my surplus written rage today is not this woeful state of affairs: I’ve been fulminating over that for quite some time. What stirred me up this time was a New York Post commentary by John Podhoretz entitled It’s About The Tragedy – Not More Bush-Bashing. Podhoretz therein chides those who have been critical of this Administration’s response and America’s historical lack of generosity for not having a proper respect for the dead. A proper respect for the dead, in Mr. Poderhoretz’s opinion, would have been to wait at least a week before “making use of the tsunami to complain about U.S. government spending on ‘development aid’”.

The American people’s gallingly short attention span does not give us that luxury.

Podhoretz, being a newspaper man, should know as well as anyone about the American people’s eagerness to always move on to a new and more exciting topic. As I write, the tsunami stories are already slipping in the headlines. Increasing body counts are becoming just more old stale news much like the reporting of American and Iraqi deaths in occupied Iraq. Tragic calamities such as this are about the only time you can get the attention of We the People.

The window of opportunity is exceedingly short: the NFL play-offs loom large.

That American “generosity” sits at about one-tenth of our GDP should have been a big story long before now. Those of us who have tried to raise the point in the past have generally been laughed off the stage and more often then not called ugly names. Forgive us then for trafficking in the misery of so many people: we have just gotten a little desperate to be heard.

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION NOW?

a few of my favorite things

No writer’s pen has ever been more wholly inadequate for its task than is my own in attempting the endeavor before me. To try and capture the tender thanksgiving sentiments of my heart in prose is indeed to court certain failure. Yet in the spirit of the season I will attempt to do so and since listing all that for which I am thankful would take far more time than that which I have to give, I will instead undertake a more modest goal and simply tell you about just a few of my favorite things.

At the top of my list is the big fat stuffed turkey that will sit astride the table of my Thanksgiving Day feast. The privilege of living at a time and place where this type of feast is a regularity is extraordinary in the extreme. We live in a land that is truly blessed with an abundance of food unlike the world has ever known in its history. Amid this abundance, and especially at this time of the year, I try to remember often the story told to me by a Chinese expatriate co-worker several years ago. She related how as a teenager, she had been so proud to work and save for a whole year and when the holidays came, she was able to take her entire savings and with it purchase a single chicken for a special family gustatory treat.

I can vividly recall that story in part because she had a wonderful sense of timing for telling it. Just after her words had absorbed in, and I was beginning to think about what an incredible tale of deprivation it was, she added in a soft voice, tinged with more than a little pain, “My family was the only family in the village that had meat for that holiday.” I was not alone in that room with her that day, but based on the silence of my fellow privileged Americans, one might have thought the room empty.

Remembering the one chicken village makes those left-over turkey sandwiches seem far less oppressive.

Good health would also obviously be at the top of any sensible list of personal bounty. I do not speak merely of being free from illness as is so often what is meant when we Americans speak of good health. Beyond that personal good fortune, I’m grateful for the relative good health we enjoy as a nation as a product of good nutrition and modern healthcare. I am ashamed to admit that I do not spend nearly enough time ruminating on the blessing of living in a place and time where a slight infection is no longer a flirtation with the grim reaper.

When thinking of health, it is hard to speak of the matter and not start first with nutrition. A little Google research is illuminating because you quickly find that there are so many people in the world that are hungry that it difficult to treat healthcare as an independent topic. One credible report stated that of the 6.3 billion people in this world, 1.2 billion live below the international poverty level. Note the adjective “international” because the standard of poverty world wide is measured much differently than is poverty here in the United States. I will spare you the detailed definition, but all you really need to know is that the terms “minimum caloric intake” and “sanitary facilities” are involved.

Honestly, I am not one to self-flagellate over our material wealth here in the United States. While I think we need to do more to help the needy both at home and abroad, I realize that it is not within our power to quickly fix the political and social messes that exist in the world. And it is important to remember also that our gain is not necessarily another’s loss—economics is not a zero-sum game.

But I do think it is important to put our thankfulness in context if we are to have anything that approaches real Gratitude. And only by putting our wealth in perspective can we also open the door for those opportunities where we might be able to assist and not simply wash our hands of the problems by leaving it up to God and economic caprice.

I am thankful too for the social and legal institutions that were bequeathed by our forefathers to its posterity and that are responsible, in good measure, for our extraordinary wealth. The twin pillars of Capitalism and Democratic Republicanism are principals worthy of tempered reverence at this reflective time. While this Curmudgeon does not view either of these philosophical pillars as perfect ideals and though I write critically of the problems in our institutions and society, I stand along side those patriotic Americans who appreciate the fact that far more is right about America than is wrong. Dissent, you see, is not necessarily inconsistent with gratitude.

In these troubled times, dissent is often the very hallmark of a thankful heart.

The right to dissent itself is perhaps one of our most celebrated blessings, and of course, without it, you would not be reading these words. The legacy of Free Speech is perhaps the bedrock on which all of our other blessings rest because it is hard to imagine efficient markets and democratic elections without that fundamental as a precedent. It is no accident that the First Amendment was first.

I will spend time on my knees Thursday thanking God for a land in which human rights actually have some meaning. It is simply impossible to be sufficiently grateful for the fortune of being born in a place where dissent has generally been regarded as an essential tool of progress. I think far too often people who have been free their whole lives forget how tenuous freedom and prosperity are in this world and this is why I am always eager to defend the basic ideas on which our society has been built.

I am also most certainly thankful for you, the gentle and faithful readers of these polemics, for you have sustained my hope for America during a time when the light of the shining city has been all but extinguished. It is with a thankful pen that I always take up the task of opining here at the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon. The passion that I hope I consistently show for civil liberties and the rule of law is rooted in thanksgiving and in a sincere desire to see our looming demise averted for the sake of our own posterity.

You need look no farther than our own backyard to realize that things could have been, and may yet well be, very different for the United States. Haiti, in spite of its substantial commercial head start on the rest of the Western Hemisphere, is an impoverished mess. According to the World Bank, eighty percent of Haitians live in poverty. In the Haitian story you can see clearly the connection between health and hunger: their life expectancy is a mere fifty-seven years.

There, but for the grace of God, go We.

And a bad situation there is getting worse—their feeble economy is actually shrinking rapidly as the population grows steadily. A good friend of mine would be in Haiti right now if it were not for the political instability that accounts for some of the recent heartache of that troubled land. He was to be on a mission trip that was to take a good size group of Christian workers over to help with building schools, repairing homes and assisting churches. A week before the scheduled trip, the local minister called and with a heavy heart asked them not to come: the situation was so dangerous that the work could not be done.

I think there will be more than a few villages in Haiti without a chicken this holiday season.

Alas, when I consider the needs of our Haitian neighbors, my pen does inevitably fail for want of adequate words to express my gratitude for being born the land of milkshakes and honey buns. As we come together to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast of 1621, let us not forget those of the world that do not join us in our festivities. Let us remember those whose condition shares far more with the famine of Plimoth Plantation’s previous winter when half of their number died than it does with the subsequent harvest of plenty.

Join me this Thanksgiving Day, if you will, and pray that at least some among the number of the huddled masses be able next year to give thanks for more than just the stronger soul produced by the adversity with which they daily live. Pray that our own hearts begin again to feel our burden, and that next year some of these poorest villages of our world might also partake of our feast with at least the luxury of a few holiday chickens.

And perhaps, just perhaps, maybe then we Americans will begin to cease being merely wealthy, and rather become more worthy of both our bounty and burden.